By Shereen Siewert
The Wisconsin Elections Commission will mail absentee ballots to residents in nursing homes in care facilities for two upcoming elections, after a meeting Thursday in Madison.
The actions aim to deal with concerns about COVID-19 Coronavirus in advance of the April 7 Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary and the May 12 Special Election in Congressional District 7.
Typically, teams of special voting deputies and political party observers conduct voting in common areas and potentially in residents’ rooms to assist with absentee voting. That will change for the next two elections.
“We understand the concern of protecting our most vulnerable voters is paramount,” said Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief elections official. “The Commission is taking this action in consultation with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and its pending directive to limit public visits to nursing homes and care facilities.”
Second, the Commission acted to give municipal clerks flexibility to relocate polling places currently slated to be in nursing homes and other facilities where public health is a concern. Under state law, municipalities must establish locations for polling places at least 30 days before an election, which has already passed for April 7. The Commission’s action will allow clerks to find alternate polling place locations as needed.
The Commission will also help clerks publicize new polling place locations so voters can find them.
Wolfe said the WEC staff has been working continuously over the past week to assess the COVID-19 situation, provide clerks with sound guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, and develop additional guidance for clerks and voters in advance of the coming elections.
“We understand everyone has pressing and important concerns regarding COVID-19,” Wolfe said. “We share clerks’ mission and sense of urgency in ensuring each of Wisconsin’s voters has access to exercise their right to vote without jeopardizing their health or the health of others.”
The Commission will hold two special webinars for clerks on Monday to address COVID-19 issues and will continue to provide guidance as the situation develops.
Commission Chair Dean Knudson said the WEC may hold additional special meetings in the coming weeks to address additional public health concerns as they may arise, including encouraging Wisconsin residents request absentee ballots by mail or to vote absentee in-person before the election.
More information about COVID-19 guidance to clerks is posted on the Commission’s website: https://elections.wi.gov/clerks/recent-communications.